Exchange of gene segments through reassortment is a major feature of influenza A virus evolution and frequently contributes to the emergence of novel epidemic, pandemic, and zoonotic strains. It has long been evident that viral diversification through reassortment is constrained by genetic incompatibility between divergent parental viruses. In contrast, the role of virus-extrinsic factors in determining the likelihood of reassortment has remained unclear. To evaluate the impact of such factors in the absence of confounding effects of segment mismatch, we previously reported an approach in which reassortment between wild-type (wt) and genetically tagged variant (var) viruses of the same strain is measured. Here, using wt/var systems in the A/Netherlands/602/2009 (pH1N1) and A/Panama/2007/99 (H3N2) strain backgrounds, we tested whether inoculation of parental viruses into distinct sites within the respiratory tract limits their reassortment. Using a ferret (Mustella putorius furo) model, either matched parental viruses were coinoculated intranasally or one virus was instilled intranasally whereas the second was instilled intratracheally. Dual intranasal inoculation resulted in robust reassortment for wt/var viruses of both strain backgrounds. In contrast, when infections were initiated simultaneously at distinct sites, strong compartmentalization of viral replication was observed and minimal reassortment was detected. The observed lack of viral spread between upper and lower respiratory tract tissues may be attributable to localized exclusion of superinfection within the host, mediated by innate immune responses. Our findings indicate that dual infections in nature are more likely to result in reassortment if viruses are seeded into similar anatomical locations and have matched tissue tropisms.

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Journal of Virology
Department of Virology

Richard, M., Herfst, S., Tao, H. (Hui), Jacobs, N.T. (Nathan T.), & Lowen, A. (2018). Influenza A virus reassortment is limited by anatomical compartmentalization following coinfection via distinct routes. Journal of Virology, 92(5). doi:10.1128/JVI.02063-17